I started my career in teaching. I was passionate to make a difference in young people’s lives, and I thought that this was the best way that I could influence the lives of young people on a daily basis. I created interesting and engaging lesson plans, labs, and experiments – the works. And at the same time I tried to incorporate lessons on bullying, body image and the media, and self-awareness. It was difficult but rewarding work, although I always wished I had more time to spend on the more personal topics.
Then one day while teaching a Grade 10 frog dissection lab, one of my female students collapsed to the ground. She began to have a seizure, with her eyes rolling back into her head and she was foaming at the mouth. We evacuated the other students, and immediately called for medical help and paramedics.
I stayed with the student until the paramedics arrived. As they took over, she started to come back around to consciousness. They asked her questions, trying to figure out what had happened to her. After several questions as they worked to stabilize her, she disclosed that she had tried to end her life by taking pills. She had experienced the physical effects of this attempt while in our classroom that day.
She was taken into medical care from our classroom and recovered from this experience. The other teacher and I were then left to debrief with rest of the class the next day. The student who had tried to take her life had contacted us, and had a message that she wanted us to share with the class. This is what she said: “I want to tell you that I am okay. I want you to know that now that I have gone through this, suicide is not the answer. I want anyone who is feeling this way to reach out and get help, today.” As we read this message to the class, I could see several student’s heads drop, and their shoulders slump – you could tell that this message hit them hard. You could almost feel the shame that some of them felt, and it seemed only obvious with this reaction I was seeing in them that they had thought about suicide themselves, too, at some point in their lives, or were thinking about it currently.
I started to think – how could I stand up in front of a class and teach about the circulatory system, when some of my students weren’t even sure that they wanted to live to see the next day? I started to re-think the best way that I could have an impact on young people’s lives, and people’s lives in general. I wanted to help. I wanted to talk with them about the real and serious issues in their lives. Teaching was no longer the best way to be able to do this, so I pursued a career in counselling, specifically to work with young people, with a hope to reach as many people – young and old together – as I can through this work.
My book “How to Like Yourself” has come out of this journey, of seeing so many young people struggle with self-esteem, their emotions, and their mood, while still being pushed through the education system in silence on these issues and without acknowledgement of these hugely foundational concepts. Without a strong emotional foundation, youth can find themselves in situations with devastating consequences. I hope this book is able to play a small part in that journey for young people, and I will continue to dedicate as much time and education as I can to this cause of shifting the focus back to our emotional foundations – because without this foundation, whatever we build up from there will ultimately crack. Let’s work together as society to strengthen our foundations, and give these topics the attention they deserve.